How do you license design, what do you do?

I have a question. I am about to sell one of my designs commerically. This entire design is 100% open source. I even made an A tot Z instruction manual from how you order this design directly @ JLCPCB complete with SMT assembly service to getting the firmware on it.

So I will sell something for €35,- and I tell people how to get it for €10 from the source directly (for most people these would be a step too far anyways)

Webpage: OSSD, Open Source Solenoid Decoder – Train Science


Being Open-Source I added the open hardware logo. Generally people are free to alter the design, fabricate the board and sell it. However the unaltered design with my own logo on it, is not to be sold by 3rd parties. They may do so but only under license + I would not mind receiving royalty fees. So next to selling the board I also want to sell manufactor licenses in exchange for royalty fees.

I only have no clue how this works and what I should do. The first google searches are a bit TMI at the moment.

Can somebody point me at the right direction?


That’s not quite how the “open” bit of open-source works. However, the most straightforward way would be to release a version without your logo - or with different artwork - from the one that you produce directly.

Sorry to get pedantic, but licenses are legal agreeements which have details…

The OSHA logo is made available according to the terms of the OSHA license, which requires the “design be made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design.”

That means you can’t place additional limitiations on the design if you want to use the OSHA logo. Sorry, it’s their license, and it’s your choice whether the benefit of using the logo outweighs your commercial interests, or if the two are compatible.

Imho, you have a couple options:

  1. (the most common strategy). Continue using the logo and be prepared to compete against 3rd parties who are free to manufacture the design under the terms of the OSHA license. This is the same as Arduino completing against a plethora of “Arduino-like” boards. However, Arduino also puts their own trademarked logo on their boards, which they do not allow 3rd-party manufacturers to use, so buyers can differentiate between genuine Arduino boards and boards manufactured by 3rd parties. You could follow the same strategy, but whether it’s worth the time and money to design and trademark a logo of your own depends on your long term strategy, and whether you think your customers will place more value on your genuine board than a 3rd party board (such as paying you more for the support you provide for your own board).

  2. Replace the OSHA logo with your own “open hardware” logo backed by your own license and a “not for commercial sale” limitation. Be prepared for others to disagree with your definition of “open hardware” and call you out for it, but it’s your choice.

  3. Treat your design as completely proprietary, and don’t try to argue “open hardware but with limitations”. You could provide technical design details for education and troubleshooting, which could be used to manufacture the design, and possibly foster an open source software development community around your hardware product. You don’t have to try and enforce your copyrights against one-off violators, although you’d put off the honest ones who wouldn’t want to violate your copyrights, and not attempting to enforce your copyrights against any and all could be used a defence by violators you want to prevent.



For what it’s worth, I don’t see much benefit from the OSHW license. I’ve had robust sales of my products without it.

The problem with many users of open source logos is that they half heartedly put the design out there and withhold key info. I know of one outfit that even has some of the words in their name that doesn’t actually publish everything needed to build their stuff. And, they play petty games with their forum (editing people’s comments to promote their products). I gave up on their “open source” promises long ago.

For my products, I just don’t bother putting it out with an OSHW license. It does use open source sw but that is obtained elsewhere. I publish the schematic and BOM but don’t distribute the board design files. Several people have used my schematic designs as the basis for theirs and I’m ok with that.

What I’m not ok with sharing is the manufacturing process engineering that goes into getting my boards made in a factory.

When I release stuff I put it under a Creative Commons Non-commercial licence, and ignore open hardware entirely. At the end of the day, most people are just looking for a solution to their problem and are not really interested in philosophical nuances so long as it’s “open” enough.

Just to muddy the waters further, there’s plenty of legal merit to arguments that there’s no such thing as copyright for hardware designs anyway, as hardware is functional in concept and functional artifacts are meant to be covered primarily by patent law, not copyright.

The thing that’s probably most important to keep in mind is not the theory of what your chosen license means, but in practice, what people will actually do.

If you release gerbers or layout files and your design is popular at all, it WILL get directly re-released by copycats, regardless of license.

If you release only schematics, it’ll have to be more popular before it gets copied.

If you release nothing and make it closed-source, it MAY still get copied, but the barrier to entry will be higher.

If you do a lot of value addition like Adafruit, you may find that people gravitate towards your brand name enough to counterbalance the lost sales to copycats.

The best thing you can do is offer a software service ecosystem where the easiest way to get in and use the goods is to buy the first-party hardware. But of course that depends entirely on the project.

Thank you kindly for your anwsers.

What I’m not ok with sharing is the manufacturing process engineering that goes into getting my boards made in a factory.

I understand completely. I am fully aware that posting the production process of something I want to sell myself, is sorta shooting myself in the foot. This project will be my only design with an A to Z tutorial from manufactoring at JLCPCB and get the firmware on it.

I don’t really care about these simple ‘basic’ designs. I am mostly focussed on things which don’t exist yet (and that is a lot)

Solenoid decoders like mine are manufactored by more companies and they are wildly populair not to mention expensive. Modeltrain hobbyist are really ‘milked dry’ on their needed electronics. You can offer half price and still get 200% profit. I figured that the most populair design would be good advertising. It will be my gift to the world of model railways.

One company sells them for €70 but they are restricted to 4 solenoids. Mine will sell for half and has double the amount of solenoid. So per solenoid they are 1/4 the price… I produce for ~€7,50 ~ €8,50 per board.

Ok, I get it. I always thought that having the OSHW logo does not really add anything substantial at all. I know that open source SW has to remain open source nomather what the case is. But that the same cannot be said for open source HW. Therefor I thought that the OSHW logo was just ‘cosmetic’.

I thought of this project with the Arduino boards in mind. Like you point out they are also open source and you can copy, distribute and sell them but as long as the Arduino Logo or the word Arduino (trademarks) are not used on your copies. Therefor I figured I’d do the same thing, not realizing that the OSHW logo conflicts.

Continue using the logo and be prepared to compete against 3rd parties who are free to manufacture the design under the terms of the OSHA license… You could follow the same strategy, but whether it’s worth the time and money to design and trademark a logo of your own

This is what I wanted I do want a trademark on my designs. So people are free to create copies and sell but just not with my trademake logo just like Arduino.

However I think that I will keep both the OSHW logo and my own logo and just don’t do difficult. I just let it be open without any restrictions. Hopefully it will be good advertising for me.

I do am interested in obtaining my own registered trademark. For other and future designs. Time for some more googl’in

Kind regards,


I’ve never bothered with official OSHW for various reasons, but have released open-source designs.

Based on what you describe, trying to block clones isn’t going to be super-successful. Most of the people cloning this probably won’t care. If you want to sell some units do it, but just know that you may have a limited time before things get flooded. With a more niche market you may still have a pretty good leg-up though. For example, if you have a link to your official store with the note that “buying through my store helps me produce these tutorials”, you will in fact get people doing that. You can also note (if it’s true) that your products are fully tested. And perhaps there are some train events you can sell at easily.

The people who want the cheapest untested product will get the Aliexpress knock-off version always. It’s often not worth trying to channel those people to your official store, as they will complain about why shipping costs so much etc next.

When you post your design files - DON’T include your logo / name on those files. Just put some silkscreen text that says “community build” or even make a different logo, and possibly other minor but detectable changes. For your versions also include some serial number stickers or similar. There is a 100% chance people who buy a knock-off version will email you asking for support, so either be up-front there is no support at all, or make sure you can detect that.

In that case too, if you do have a partner you want to work with perhaps you can license it for linking to their version.

If you want to be pedantic about it & are including the OSHW logo, you’ll have to link your “version” from somewhere, but that can be a zip-file linked from a store page instead of the prominent github repo. Thus when people go to clone the product they end up with a slightly different version. Of course in reality nobody will care about the minor differences, so you may just leave the manufacturing file version private.

But as a meta-point, be aware that a 35EUR “retail” for a 9EUR BOM is probably not going to be of too much interest to license I imagine. The manufacture also has to deal with the distributor margin, warranty issues, compliance, etc. Basically the reason people are “ripping off” everyone isn’t that it’s a huge goldmine, it’s that that stuff adds up in niche markets!

If you are looking to be a bit more half-assed about selling them, you might consider just selling bulk orders only. This way clubs and similar can do a large orders. And you can try selling to vendors who might be interested (be aware they may ask for ~35-50% margin pretty normally).


Hi Bas, I agree completely boutique industries can have profit margins others only dream of, but “I can do that cheaper” is a mantra in the engineering startup world, and 80% won’t make it to their second year unless it’s more hobby than business (and if that’s the case, also consider that standard business tax deductions won’t be available).

I’d start by double-check I’m comparing apples to apples and make sure I’m not missing anything, beginning with checking the certifications my competitors are claiming. Regulation compliance can add a significant overhead cost. There have been several good conversations in the forum on the topic of product certifications, which can be particularly onerous for finished product sold in the EU.

Marketing can also be a significant cost, and I expect advertising in the specialty magazines is not inexpensive. Of course, taking advantage of less expensive options in the age of the internet while your dinosaur competitors are still stuck on print advertising can be a significant advantage.

Also make sure you’ve included standard business costs in your comparison, such as a business license and potentially liability insurance (which may be required if you are required to have a business license, but is also part of your risk management - are you prepared to lose everthing as a sole proprietor if someone claims your solenoid overheated and caused a house fire?). Also consider hidden business costs, such as including a rate for your time processing and shipping orders.

Best wishes on your success!

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That is true of the copyleft licenses such as the GPL, but there are permissive licenses such the BSD, MIT, and Apache licenses which do not have the same requirement.

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The latest revision has a QR code on it (up yours dinosaurs!), pointing to the webpage (which also has an operating manual). The webpage also has a contact forum, with which people can place orders for the time being.

And the webpage also has a ‘donation’ paragraph. :money_mouth_face:

I will also make a few video’s (though it is a fairly simple thing, you just press 1 button, control a turnout and that’s it)

On the 23th this month I will ‘offcially’ release the design and demonstrate a few prototypes in public on the ‘digital information days’ (for model train hobbyists). I made special buissness cards for this design to hand out. (with link and with QR code)

I do not have a tax number at this time. But I will before the 23th. After the 23th I plan to place a bulk order of atleast 500 units. (depending on how the 23th goes)

I will expect to get questions in the future by customers. So when my design will be produced by 3rd parties, I’ll expect to have a (short) FAQ list.

I have been active on an online forum which is somewhat big. I help people with problems and I post my technological advancements. I am also in contact with forum management to organizer a forum action to sell them. This is not uncommon.

This design is merely ment as a ‘base income’ so I can cover alteast expenses and can fund new prototypes, tools and bulk orders. The real profit I want to get from my own unique ideas and designs (which are not open source :stuck_out_tongue: )

I still have a 40 hour job. So I don’t expect to become bankrupt anytime in the near future.


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I like the QR code idea. Might incorporate that into my next spin.

I do something very similar to you though in a different niche. Each niche has different characteristics but demonstrating area expertise in forums is a key factor. In mine (CNC), I help a lot of people work through issues and soft-sell my products. Like you, I’m not going to make a living at it but could if I was willing to do it full time. So far, I’ve sold around 1100 world wide in a couple of years. Since my products require soldering, I suspect if I offered a fully assembled version sales would be a lot higher. Though,that would probably attract copying/competition.

I marked my designs up as CC BY SA (by attribution, share alike). I can tell which are my boards because I hand write a serial number on a blank panel of silkscreen and photograph it. You can randomise letter spacing, the position in the box, even the colour pen you use.